ZTE Open FirefoxOS Phone – Overview

After waiting for almost two weeks , I finally got the ZTE Open phone and thought to write a brief overview .

I bought this phone mainly to play a little with FirefoxOS and experience developing apps for this platform. So this review is going to focus primarily on the development of this phone especially in terms of its openness (since I haven’t had the time to actually develop for it just yet) .

If your thinking of buying this phone for daily use my recommendation is don’t!.
Mozilla claims that it directs its phones for “emerging markets” which is a nice way to say  poor people . From my short time handling the ZTE its slow, the touch is not very accurate, the 2 mp camera has such a low quality that I doubt its even 2 mp, and I’m sure you can get a cheaper android phone that will be way better.

A small disclaimer I’m quite a Mozilla fanboy , I put stickers of Firefox on almost every electronic component that I have. I donated them money just to get a shirt with the Firefox logo, And I generally quite fond of them. So I’ll allow myself to be harsh on this phone as much as possible, but its only because I love them.

So let’s start with the shipping. The phone is not available for purchase from or even to be shipped to Israel. So I had to use a 3rd party shipping company to order it from the ZTE’s eBay store.  so it was 80$ for the phone, another 22$ for the shipment, and 34$ taxes. all in all 136$ doesn’t make it that cheap at all.

After almost two weeks of waiting ( a week for shipment within the U.S. and another week for shipment to Israel ) I finally got my phone. here are some pictures  –

ZTE Open Phone Box

ZTE Open Phone Box content

ZTE Open Phone back uncovered

As you can see the phone comes with a battery , USB cable , earphone and charger. pretty standard up here . You can see that it works with regular SIM (which for me is really good since the phone I use daily also use a regular SIM so I can switch between them as needed without any problems ). It also has a micro SD slot which I had not planned to use it at all.

I started charging the phone and turned it on to see how the system looks

FirefoxOS screenshot

The welcome screen looks very nice but as you can see the system is not fully baked and there are five icons in the launch bar even though there ‘s only room for four ( this is perhaps ZTE fault, but will discuss more about them later). The handling and navigation through menus and applications is not always clear. Not always there is a back button to return to where you were. And you cannot take any pictures unless you have an SD card you can’t even turn on the camera app. it is unclear how it appeals to the emerging markets.. . Obviously I took a trip to the local photo shop and bought the cheapest microSD card I could find, just to see how the camera works –

A  wall at my apartment

As you can see not worth the price of the memory card .
But as I said before this is the first version of a cheap low tech phone so all of this was expected.

Then I decided to try and actually use the phone for a number of days  just to see how it feels. I used my local provider SIM and it worked without a problem. I checked how I can import all my android contacts to the device. Apparently only the 1.1.0 version FirefoxOS can import contacts directly from a google account,. and the ZTE Open only runs version 1.0.1. I checked how I can update  the device, and I realized that I first need to root it  and then replace the boot.img so I’ll be able to  install a new version. not only that but the post I found had several people mentioning hoe they actually bricked the device trying to update it… Does not sound much more open Android to me.

So I started to follow tutorial that explains how to get root access on the phone . Because of security issues that ZTE did not bother to fix. One point less to ZTE .
so it took less than a second to root the ZTE, but it seems to me quite dangerous to begin replacing the ROM at this stage. After all, I wanted to mainly develop applications for this phone and didn’t really feel like turning it into a paperweight on the the first day I got it . so I was sure I was going to give up on the upgrade when I found a tutorial on Mozilla’s website that explains how to Upgrade the ZTE Open phone specifically. I didn’t tries it yet,  and probably will take a few days until I decide to try and update the device but it seems promising. one point in favor of Mozilla .
Update: you can read my next post on how to update ZTE to Firefox OS 1.1 as you can see in the post this is not a simple process so no point for mozilla.

For now I found an application called vCardIn which allowed me to import vCard contacts from my SD card. Looking at the FirefoxOS market I was surprised how many applications are already there and available to this platform even thou it relatively new system .

I haven’t yet had the chance to see how easy it is to develop for this platform but I hope I’ll get to soon and of course I ‘ll try to write when I do. What seems as a great advantage of FirefoxOS that  since it so tightly web based system any web application can very easily become a native application and it seems that even at this initial stage there are enough developers who would love to develop for this platform.
Mozilla still needs to work hard to keep its system truly open. As in Android there will be a lot of companies who want to release products with closed drivers that will make it difficult for developers and users to install their own versions on their devices. I do not know how Mozilla plans to prevent it and now it feels like with ZTE is not fully open, but I really hope they succeed keeping this platform open.